Stemming the Loss of Local Journalism

THE NEW YORK TIMES — August 18, 2019 — Readers discuss the role that philanthropists and lawmakers can play to help save local papers.

To the Editor:

Re “A Future Without the Front Page” (“The Last Edition,” special section, Aug. 4):

It was good to see The New York Times focusing attention on the alarming decline in local news and ideas for reversing it. One important point needs to be highlighted: the proper and crucial role philanthropy should play. At the heart of the crisis is a collapse in revenue that funded the commercial model for local news.

When the market fails and critical services go wanting, philanthropy must step up as a loss leader to help finance the reinvention of local news as a public service. The old model for journalism produced huge cash flows that traditionally underwrote great local journalism. Reinvention requires making available the time, capital and level of risk taking that simply does not exist in the commercial market but fits squarely in the mission of philanthropy.

Imagine if every foundation in the country devoted just 1 percent of its giving each year to building journalism capacity. That would be about $600 million — far short of the revenues lost to digital disruption, but enough to give local news innovation the runway to reinvent the industry.

At the Revson Foundation, we have been following this model for 10 years. It works, as executives at ChalkbeatWNYCTHE CITYProPublica and City Limits can attest. In the same way that philanthropists built our great cultural institutions, hospitals and universities that the market alone could not support, philanthropy must continue to play this vital leadership role for local journalism.

Julie Sandorf
New York
The writer is president of the Charles H. Revson Foundation.